This is Ike. In case you were wondering:)
I had been in Dharmkot for a few weeks and was having way too much fun. Decided I should take a little trip though and go check out the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I had met a guy from Israel in Dharmkot and he was going so I figured I would tag along. My daily routine of waking up and deciding what to eat that day and then which waterfall I should hike to before I decided it was ok to have another meal was starting to get grueling. It was a last minute decision for me which would have been fine, but I had just given all my clothes to the family we were staying with to get washed. All I had to wear to the temple was a pair of boardshorts. Most temples in India require legs and shoulders to be covered so I knew this was going to be a problem. Fortunately, there was a girl from Australia staying at the same place where I was and she let me have some leggings that she was giving away. So off I went, leggings and all for the Golden Temple:) We decided to get there the most economical way possible which suited me just fine. Only 146 rupees (about 2 dollars) on the local bus for 5 hours and then caught a train for the last 3 hours from Pathankot for only 50 rupees (less than a dollar). The local bus was long and slow but typical for India. We were in general class on the train and for the first hour, the only spot was standing right next to the bathrooms. Let’s just say, if they made an Indian train bathroom scented candle, I would not buy it, even if it was free. We got to Amritsar around 8pm and ate some food before deciding to walk to the temple. I’m always trying to walk whenever possible to save money so I love it when people I’m traveling with also are up for it. We got part way there and it was a bit longer than we had anticipated. I had to convince my friend that there was no way we were getting a rickshaw. I was successful in this endeavour and so we continued. Even stopping for some of the best vegetarian fare on a kabob. Though what vegetable this keboblical creation originated from, I couldn’t begin to guess.
First some basics of the Sikh faith which might be helpful:
Basic beliefs of Sikhism
- Sikhs believe in one God. He is the same for all people of all religions.
- Sikhism teaches equality of all people. Sikhism preaches that people of different races, religions, or sex are all equal in the eyes of God. Sikhism teaches the full equality of men and women.
- Sikhism emphasizes daily devotion to the remembrance of God. One should remember God at all times.
- Sikhism teaches religious freedom. All people have the right to follow their own path to God without condemnation or coercion from others.
- Sikhism emphasizes a moral and ethical life. A Sikh should represent moral responsibility and righteousness.
- Sikhism rejects all forms of rituals such as idol worship, pilgrimages, fasting, and superstitions.
- Sikhism teaches service to others. The primary task in life should be to help the poor, needy, and oppressed. The Sikhs have a long heritage of speaking out against injustice and for standing up for the defenseless.
- Sikhs are supposed to be saints, scholars, and soldiers.
- The word Sikh means disciple or student. Sikhs are the disciples of God who follow the writings and teachings of the ten Sikh Gurus.
We arrived fairly late and ending up getting a tour from some Sikhs we had met on the train. They were incredibly friendly and really enjoyed taking us on a tour and into the temple. I’m not one for tourist places and sites but I was really impressed with the Golden Temple. It’s big and very golden. When we went inside, there was a priest of sorts sitting and chanting hymns and prayers accompanied by various instruments. This gets broadcast on speakers for everyone to hear, even if you aren’t actually in the temple. But, not so loud that you feel the need to drown yourself in the Ganges. This was nice, because I think they are the only religion in India that DOESN’T play their music way too loud. Apparently this goes on from early in the morning to late at night. The part that caught my attention was the money. So much money. It’s crazy. There is a person whose job is to simply sit there and sweep the money up and put it in a slot. All day long. And it is constant. There is a stream of people always lined up who come into the temple, kneel down and pray for a moment, leave a donation, and then move on. You can also get some water from the lake that surrounds the temple which they consider to be holy. Our Sikh friends would have talked to us all night but I was tired and hungry and we headed for the dining hall. It’s almost worth going just to see the dining hall without the temple. They feed from 60,000 to 100,000 people every day. For free. It’s just wild. It’s done so efficiently and goes on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And the food is actually really good. I ate there for every meal while I was there. Rice, dal (lentils), chapati, and curd cooked in pots that are bigger than any pot I’ve ever seen. A lot of people who come to the temple spend some time volunteering in the kitchen and I heard that 90% of the staff is made up of volunteers. I decided to volunteer for an hour or so handing out plates to the people coming in. It was a lot of fun and of course, the Sikhs were excited to see a Westerner. Needless to say, many selfies were taken by my new Sikh friends. They also have a free dorm for foreigners if you don’t feel like sleeping on the floor of the temple with all the Indians. It’s a rather small dorm, though, so I ended up sleeping on the floor for the first night anyway. I was able to snag a cot for the second night I was there. I ended up making some really good friends in the dorm. We hung out and some of them ended up coming back to Dharmkot as well.
Everybody sits together on the floor. No matter who you are. You get your food amazingly fast and it’s delicious. A lot of Sikhs carry knives inside their turbans to use to protect the temple if the need should arise. When they bathe in the water outside, they keep their swords handy, just in case. “No pants, no problems, I’ve got my sword.” I think this might be the new Sikh motto. No, but seriously, the Sikhs were some of the kindest, most welcoming people I met. It’s really great, unlike some religions that try to convert you or push their beliefs on you, this is not the way with the Sikhs. They are just happy to have guests and love to answer questions and show you around. I was ready to leave by the second day and get back to the quiet mountains of Dharmkot, yet so happy that I came.